You Write The Reviews: The Pilgrim's Progress, Sadler's Wells, London
Wednesday 02 July 2008
This year is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the works of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, 50 years after his death. Packed concert schedules allow us to reassess the "cow pat" composer (or, according to Classic FM's polls, Britons' favourite composer). The culmination of these celebrations is the Pioneering Pilgrim series by the Philharmonia under the conductor Richard Hickox, which includes all nine symphonies and The Pilgrim's Progress, the greatest, most complex and the least stageable of Vaughan Williams's operas.
Vaughan Williams was much taken by Bunyan's tale. Although a "Christian agnostic" himself, he spent a good deal of his life crafting an opera around it. The Pilgrim's Progress distils the essence of the composer's development over the first half of the 20th century. But there have been relatively few operatic performances of it, since directors struggle with what Vaughan Williams himself termed a "morality", rather than an opera. So we are left with infrequent "semi-staged" performances to bring the work to life.
"Semi-staged" can mean many things, but rarely can it have meant so rich a conveyance of the essence of the story as it did here. Under David Edwards's imaginative direction, with minimal props and the orchestra and chorus ranged behind them, the performers brought out the inner meaning and emotional richness of Bunyan's allegory. Orchestra and chorus were in excellent form, seeming to relish the rare opportunity to get to grips with this work.
As the Pilgrim, Roderick Williams was a revelation, offering a light yet round sound and conveying in depth the emotional trajectory of the Pilgrim's journey. A starry cast included James Gilchrist, Robert Hayward and Gidon Saks, who relished parts as Apollyon and Lord Hate-Good. Gilchrist's voice was sweet and clear, and as Bunyan, Neil Davies delivered a clear and impassioned performance, if sometimes a little overwhelmed by the size of the orchestral forces behind him.
After the interval, Sarah Fox, along with Pamela Helen Stephen and Sarah Tynan, had great fun in Vanity Fair, which was realised in a paparazzi-filled market place where the Philharmonia Voices revelled in their love of Mammon, before Williams sang his heart out as he arrived at the celestial city. The only minor downside of this rare and intelligent performance was the rush with which Hickox finished the journey.
Will we ever see a fully staged Pilgrim's Progress? Perhaps Vaughan Williams would have been content with semi-staged performances as true to the soul of his "morality" as this one.
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 3 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Spectre: Director Sam Mendes teases clips from upcoming James Bond movie
Indian Summers recommissioned: Channel 4 confirm a second series of British Empire drama
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut